Running from the Law: The Complex Sibling Dynamic

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Complex Sibling Dynamic

Brothers and sisters...sisters and brothers. The sibling relationship is a complicated thing. I've been thinking a lot about what to say (or whether to say anything) about the crazy and complex love/hate/love relationship between these two tiny beings that I've been blessed with. To say that these two have opposite personalities would be a complete understatement, so it's no surprise that their relationship is a strange mixture of both their best and worst qualities. And yes, I know that it might seem crazy to devote an entire post and analysis to the relationship between a 3.5 year old and a 1.5 year old (seriously, they're babies, how complex can it be?!), but these two have such big strong personalities and over the top emotions that their feelings for each other are incredibly obvious and transparent. This may just be the only time in their entire lives that I know exactly what they're both thinking/feeling, so I'm going to take advantage of it. Plus, I see/read so many posts about siblings that always seem to get along perfectly, share generously and love each other unconditionally that I thought it was about time someone told the other side of the story. Things aren't always easy. 
I'm not sure how clear I've been thus far about how these two get along. About a month after Mim was born, I wrote this post on how the new normal was taking some getting used to and how hard it was on Mac to share his parents with this new intruder to the family. Things have gotten better (as has his vocabulary), but honestly, not all that much has changed in the jealousy department. His jealousy issues are still there and don't seem to be going anywhere, while hers are rapidly developing and intensifying. Sharing your toys is one thing, but sharing the people you love the most in the world is a whole other issue. A hard one. Especially from the point of view of the parent. 
As you may recall, Ryan and I took a very segregated divide and conquer approach to parenting the two of them for quite a while and even though we've moved beyond that (now that we're through the "survival" stage with a toddler and a newborn), the repercussions are still there. Mac is a total daddy's boy and would rather have Ryan than me for any and everything. While it hurts my feelings at times, I get to take some comfort in the fact that Mim usually wants her mama. Of course there are exceptions to the rule when they both want Ryan all the time (particularly right after daddy gets home from a business trip), but I think it's mainly because they both spend more time with me during the week. Or maybe it's because daddy's way more fun and gives them cool projects and makes them feel grown up, while mommy's always hanging around, forcing them to smile for photos and wash their hands and eat their vegetables. I get it. But anyway, the jealousy persists and whichever parent is wanted by one, is usually wanted by the other at the EXACT SAME TIME. Same goes for toys, food, drinks, shows, clothing, etc. Anyone with more than one opinionated kid knows this all too well. Most of the fights, arguments and aggression from directly from jealousy. So long as both kids are playing with their own things or have their own parent, all is right in the world. 
You've probably also picked up on the fact that Mim is a total sweetheart and (for the most part) worships and adores her big brother. Mac is a highly intelligent, precocious, sensitive and energetic preschooler that feels ALL the emotions, ALL of the time. This kid can go from a loving, caring, concerned big brother that wants to protect his baby sister from the world one minute to throwing her to the wolves the next. The sweeter she is to him, the nastier he is to her. The less she wants anything to do with him, the more he lays on the sugar and makes her fall in love with him all over again. He's a master manipulator. I don't know whether to be worried or just truly impressed at his depth of his manipulation and mastery of emotional influence. On the other hand, Mim is learning from this devious genius and is starting to not only fight back, but use his own tricks against him. She's learned to throw fits to get her way with him and us. She screams/cries before he even gets close to her to ensure he doesn't take whatever she's holding. If he messes with her, she hits, pinches and bites him...then watches in satisfaction as he cries. She has picked up on his more conniving behaviors and has learned exactly how to get what she wants in true Mac-fashion. It's incredible to watch these two interact because they learn from each other and teach each other on a day-to-day basis. Their relationship is always evolving and growing. 
Most days, their relationship swings from one extreme to the next within minutes. Mac can go from complete indifference that Mim's in the room to total jealous rage that she had the nerve to even look at one of his toys to protective and caring big brother if she gets hurt (so long as it wasn't him that hurt her). Mac's a typical (ok...possibly extreme) threenager with such a range of emotions, feeling and outbursts that I never know whether he's going to walk by Mim and hug her or push her into a wall. And neither does she, which means that she's usually on high danger alert at all times and will probably have serious trust issues her entire life. One minute he's growling at her for being close to him and the next he's hugging her because he just loves her so so so so much. He wants to play with her and wants her involved, but gets irrationally frustrated because she's a baby and doesn't play by his rules. He always wants to know where she is and what she's doing, but doesn't want her doing it anywhere close to him. It's a very confusing time for all of us. I'm really hoping that he'll emotionally chill the eff out a bit over the next few years and possibly give us a break from all the drama, but I'm not holding my breath. 
Despite the occasional (daily/hourly) drama, for the most part, their love for each other is usually pretty apparent. Mim usually thinks that Mac hung the moon. You can tell by the look in her eyes that she loves him and wants to be just like him. She copies everything he does and wants everything he has, which he simultaneously finds obnoxious and flattering (rightfully so). Because their personalities are so different, it's easy to tell what she's doing on her own, as opposed to what she's doing solely because she saw Mac do it, which is pretty adorable. She's so impressionable right now and he's her exclusive role model  (I'm not sure whether that's a really good or really bad thing some days). She seems kind of lost when he's not around (when he's at preschool) and can't wait from him to come home again. And as much as it pains him to admit that he loves his little sister, it's sometimes incredibly obvious by how protective and possessive he is of her. If she's not around, he talks/asks about her nonstop. If the neighborhood girls are showing attention to Mim, he has to step in and claim the privilege of her being his baby sister with hugs and hand-holding (which she loves). He worries about her if she's hurt or sick. He reads her books and tells her stories. He laughs at her silliness and tells us how cute she is. He looks out for her at the playground around other kids. He takes care of her and shows her how to do things and helps her get dressed. Sometimes they play together so well I just stare at them in utter disbelief and think it truly doesn't get better than this. But then he'll play too rough or she'll try to eat his trains and that's the end of it. 
With two kids that have such different and distinct personalities, it's really hard for me to tell what is attributable to gender differences, what are the birth order traits and what are just due to the fact that they're different kids. Mac has a lot of the traits of the first born child (like me). He's a leader, he's determined, he's stubborn, dominate, jealous and highly motivated. He wants nothing more than the full and exclusive attention of the people around him. He has a hard time playing independently and wants to be at our side, with us, 1000% of the time. Mim is the baby of the family (like Ryan) and is sensitive and sweet, she's nurturing and caring, cooperative and flexible. She's great at independent play, loves affection, doesn't give a crap about what you think or say, refuses to listen to the word no, self-sufficient, loyal, fearless and easy-going. Obviously, some of these traits are really complementary and some of them are very much in opposition to each other. His fierce determination and constant need of approval is so different from her laid-back confidence and independence - it's truly amazing to see how the same two people can make two children that are so incredibly different. 
Only time will tell how their relationship changes and evolves as the years go by. Brother/sister is a complicated, yet incredibly rewarding relationship and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't worry (a LOT) about whether they will love and respect each other and the shared life they lived. The sibling relationship can sometimes last longer than any other relationship in a person's life and they're the only people in the world that know what it's like to grow up in the same house, with the same parents and circumstances as you did. I want so desperately for them to be close, but I know that may take years (or decades). I hope they will always have a special place in each other's heart. As siblings, they'll be each other's first playmates and co-conspirators, role models and protectors, counselors and collaborators, sources of envy and objects of pride. I'm hoping that someday they appreciate each other for who they are; that they'll always look out for each other; and no matter what, they'll take care of each other. That is my Christmas wish. 


What was your relationship with your siblings like?
Do you worry/think about your childrens' sibling relationships?

27 comments:

  1. These are some great photos that really display their personalities and feelings towards each other! I just love both of their expressions!! It's crazy to me how much siblings love/hate each other even 1.5 years into the youngest's life! We are dealing with very similar issues around here!

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  2. The way your write and these photos... I literally can feel like I know what it's like to know your kids. And the order of the pictures is spot on. I love how in one photo Mac looks like he hates Mim and then the next photo is her copying him and then the next is her looking at him with all the love and admiration in the world. It will be interesting to re-read this post next year and see if they are still like this to each other or if things have changed.

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  3. I have two boys (age 3 and 18 months) and after reading this post I can give you some reassurance that the dynamics between your kiddos is very much the same in our house. I thought with 100% certainty that having two boys so close in age would mean they would be the very best of friends as soon as they were able to play together. The youngest worships the ground our oldest walks on, copies and imitates his every move, and of course wants every single toy our oldest is playing with. Our oldest, most of the time, wants very little to do with his little brother. He doesn't act in the typical jealous fashion but acts out in other ways to get attention when he wants it. It can be so frustrating at times but then they will play nicely together for ten minutes and we think to ourselves...yes, the craziness of having them so close in age was worth it for the moments like this!!

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  4. Love the pictures!!! They are so adorable! I hear ya with sibling relationships. Most days Cam adores Emmy but other days she is in his space, touching his toys, and he pushes her over.

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  5. Those dynamics are so interesting. It will also be so interesting to see how their relationship grows and changes over the next few years and beyond. Your pictures capture their personalities brilliantly!

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  6. I'm not a mama so I have no advice, haha. But, I was the oldest growing up and my two younger sisters copied me like crazy. IT DROVE ME NUTS! We definitely had our I LOVE now I HATE moments but REALLY became close during college and after. They became my best friends.

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  7. Oh I just love this post! Such an interesting dynamic. You have me a it worried for what is to come in my future! I have always been super super close to my brother who is nearly three years older than me, so I really hope my boys get to experience a similar relationship! I love all the pictures you share of how Mim really does look at Mac so adoringly!

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  8. Whew, mama, you sure have your hands full with these two, it sounds like! I love these pictures so freaking much! Hysterical!!
    We haven't dealt with many jealousy issues around here…not sure if we just got lucky (so far) or if it's because my first 2 were only 18 months apart so none of the kids ever really knew what life was like with 100% of their parents attention anyway. We were expecting the worst from my 2 year old when the baby was born, but he shocked us all by being totally fine with her. She was also a really easy baby though, so she didn't take a ton of attention away from him.
    All 4 of my kids have very different personalities, but (again, SO FAR) it seems like they are all relatively mellow beings - there isn't one kid who is super intense or anything. So while they do fight a bit, sibling fights aren't something that I consider a big issue in our house, quite yet. When they do happen, I usually just separate the kids and take whatever it is they are fighting over away. This mainly applies to my oldest two (4.5 and 6 years old). With my 2 year old, we all just give him whatever he wants, ha! Typical 3rd child. We are probably ruining him, but he's my cryer and no one wants to hear it - even the other kids, lol! Now that he is getting older and more verbal, we are trying to teach him that he can't always have his way, buuuut that's going about as great as one can expect with a spoiled little 2 year old, ha! He's very lucky he has some adoring big sisters who shock me daily with their patience with him!

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  9. I love these photos and I love their pj's!

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  10. This was so well written and I'm amazed at how well you can describe your children in the written form! My brother is 3.5 years older than me and I think I've always been a pain in his butt. He wanted to return me to the hospital, throw me out, etc. It didn't get better as we grew up and while we still get together and have learned to be civil, it's not the relationship I hoped to have with an older brother. My younger brother and I are however very close and got along great growing up, even with a 4 year age difference. I've always said that its great if your kids are friends but you can't count on it. While I would have loved to give Noah a sibling, and think he'd be a great older brother, that's not in the cards. And since I'm all about staying positive, I'm instead looking at the bright side that he won't have that jealousy towards a sibling for having to share his parents. No matter the situation, there are pros and cons.

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  11. This all sounds so familiar. Jackson and Avery have a very similar love/hate/love relationship. They are both very different and yet so similar. It's so fun watching them play and interact together. I too worry and pray about what their relationship will be like throughout their lives. I hope so much that they have a wonderful relationship like me and my sister do. I worry that a brother/sister relationship won't be as close as a sister/sister or brother/brother relationship would be, but I hope it's as close a bond as possible and I hope they always have each other to lean on and support each other always.

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  12. It's funny because we have pretty much the exact same set up at our house as far as age gaps and sex, but of course my two are about 6 months behind your two. However, the relationship at our house is so much different! Carter ADORES Landry and Landry ADORES Carter, at this point anyways! I think it is possibly because Carter isn't your typical first born...he is more of a follower than a leader, so much that when Landry gets older, I can see him following HER! Of course, they will fight over a toy here and there, but I think that would be expected siblings or not. I think it is great you have this documented and you can look back in a few years and see how things have evolved.

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  13. What a great post! I love how well you can describe both of your children and I love all of the photos! I think Mila has a very similar personality to Mac's. I worry that she won't handle a sibling well if/when that happens! It's definitely clear that Mac and Mim love each other though, despite any frustrations with each other. As difficult as things may be at times, it sounds like you're doing a pretty darn good job as parents!

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  14. They are so adorable! You captured their personalities perfectly in all these photos :)

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  15. I love this little glimpse into their relationship - I have seen some of what you're talking about in your photos of them, for sure. The thing is, it's not something you can control and it'll just grow with age.

    My sisters are significantly younger than me, and it took a LONG time for us to have a typical sister relationship - as in, it's only happened in the last 2-3 years or so. They may be like that, or they may be close once they hit elementary school - there's no way to know. I think it's so cool to watch how kids interact with and learn from each other, even at this young age.

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  16. This is such a great post. I can already see big differences in my girls, even at young ages. Waverly is like Mac, threenager allllllll the way, I love so many things about her but she doesn't make life easy, that's for sure! I adore these pics!

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  17. I went through an emotional roller coaster with this post! You had me laughing and tearing up within minutes of each other (like Mac? Lol!) my brother and I are 17 years apart so my mom jokes that she had two only children. I'm sure their dynamic will fluctuate throughout the years but I bet they will be close forever!

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  18. And you have so aptly described the sibling dynamic in my house! So weird how your kids personalities/ behavior resemble mine, Im glad we're not alone :) Both my husband and I are the first born in our families and I think may be at a disadvantage in regards to Brielana and her "little sister issues". I hope she doesnt have a complex growing up! Thank goodness children are resilient! I do know though that they will always have each others back and I take comfort in knowing they will be friends for life.

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  19. Amazing post, Sara! The sibling dynamic is fascinating. I'm so curious to see the relationship that developes between my two.

    A few days ago I was complaining to a friend about how hard age three is (because, damn, it's HARD). She has a son who is 8, and claims if you can live through age 3 you are rewarded with age 4...

    My brother and I sound so much like Mac and Mim (except I'm the oldest). We fought hard. Like, holy shit, are we going to kill each other? We weren't super close growing up - a 4 year age gap will do that - but now that we are both adults we have this incredible bond.

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  20. Sara, this was so fascinating to read. Life with 2 has been quite the adjustment & I'm so curious to see how the boys' relationship will develop the older they get. Since my pregnancy with Wyatt, these two boys have been completely different. I've said to Luke countless times how can two babies from the same parents be so different & they are both boys.

    Like Desiree above, my sister said 4 was a breeze! I sure hope she's right because 3 is a roller coaster!

    The pictures you've captured for this post connected so well with your words! Thanks for sharing!

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  21. Being a card carrying member of the one and done club, I don't have much to add except that my sisters and I are spread out in age. There are seven years between me and the middle and 15 years between me and the youngest. To be honest, I can't say we've always been close or gotten along well. It's only been within the last 10 years or so that we've really turned the corner in our relationships with each other for the better but being that your two are closer in age, that might not even be an issue. Give it time. I have a feeling they will be the best of friends. XO

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  22. Oh, this roller coaster ride has just begun for you. My two stepdaughters are as different as night & day & at this time, they mostly just loathe each other (they are 17 & 14). I don't really recall a time that they've actually liked each other...maybe someday they will.

    I love the line that Mim doesn't know if Mac is gonna hug her or throw her into the wall. Ha! He's preparing her for life cuz you never know what you're gonna get. What a good big brother. :)

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  23. What a beautifully written post. Complicated describes a brother sister relationship divided by about 2 years perfectly. My two melt my heart when they hold hands and snuggle. But then they'll turn around and fight over a toy. Yesterday, when I first brought my daughter home from surgery, I asked her what she wanted and the first thing she said was her brother. Later that night they fought. Your pictures captured their personalities so well. Those two look like they're going to give you some joy and laughter in the years to come.

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  24. Ok first of all these photos are adorable!! I love their PJs. Second, thank you for your honesty about their relationship and the sibling dynamic and how the transition was for your family. I'm interested to see how Scarlett and Bodhi's relationship develops over the years... Scarlett is highly sensitive so I've noticed a bit of a change in her since Bodhi arrived, it's not jealousy but I'm having a hard time figuring out what it is sh's feeling.. thank goodness she can voice her thoughts now and she is pretty open about her feelings.

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  25. The pictures really tell the story here. Right now it's kinda hard to tell what Ez and Declan's relationship will be like. Growing up I was the oldest and my middle brother was a total brat to me. That's how I remember it anyway. He thinks we had a great relationship. And now that we're both adults and not living under the same roof we do. I'm not really sure what that says other than that sibling relationships are constantly evolving and there will probably be many good phases and memories along with some bad phases. And also, as bratty as my brother was I never once wished he wasn't my brother and I'd fight anyone else who said anything bad about him. So I guess my long rambling point is that to me Mac and Mim seem pretty normal.

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  26. I am equally so excited and terrified to have two kids this spring! I've decided not to set any expectations for Jude (I mean he will be exactly 2 when this baby arrives) but I really hope he's okay with sharing me and Brandon with the new baby. He never really acts jealous now, but who knows when someone comes in and takes his papa away, and ALL he ever wants is papa these days. Which breaks my mama heart, but at the same time I love seeing him follow BTR around and obsess over him.

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  27. Thanks for your honesty! Love your openness.

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